What use is Twitter and Facebook when it comes to pastoral ministry? Should we even try? Is it really smart for pastors to lob verbal grenades into cyber space where any number of people in any number of conditions and situations may do anything they like with them? Is it really all that helpful? I want to defend the practice and encourage those who feel inclined to give it a try.
First of all, I would defend the art of pastoral tweet bombing by pointing to the perfect pastor: Jesus Christ. He's the Head Pastor of the Church, the Chief Shepherd, and we take our cues from Him. Jesus invented Twitter. Jesus was the first pastor to employ Twitter in His pastoral ministry.
He may not have had a smart phone or even a dumb phone, but Jesus was the master of throwing out short truths that were calculated to poke, prod, and offend.
Here are a few samples from Matthew's Twitter Feed:
"Follow Me, and let the dead bury their dead." (Mt. 8:22)
"Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Mt. 9:12-13)
"Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword." (Mt. 10:34)
"I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." (Mt. 10:35)
"Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees." (Mt. 16:6)
"If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come follow Me." (Mt. 19:21)
The point is that Jesus frequently said things in short, pointy ways that not only could be misunderstood, but which frequently were and were meant to be. Jesus didn't apologize and promise to only write essays, books, and give long sermons that explained everything more carefully. Jesus kept right on saying things that were startling, confusing, and could be easily misunderstood. In fact, Jesus ultimately was condemned for statements that were twisted and taken out of context.
If Jesus had only said things that were more helpful to everyone, He probably could have avoided the cross. Oh good, would someone please let Him know? Actually, there were lawyers and pharisees lining up to give Him the memo.
The fact that some people will read Matthew's quotes above and think that they are reasonable, unobjectionable statements only goes to show that the modern Church has asked a neutered Jesus into their hearts. And now they're frequently wagging a grandmotherly finger whenever anyone says anything that's actually slightly Christ-like.
The point isn't just to say anything that might get a rise out of someone. The point is to tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may. The point is to tell the truth without being bothered with exceptional cases and devilish nuances. The point, dare I say it again, is to tell the truth.
Furthermore, the gospel itself, while it is big and expansive and glorious, is also reducible to Twitter form, and the apostles do not shy away from this.
"I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures…" (1 Cor. 15:1-4)
"This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." (1 Tim. 1:15)
"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit." (1 Pet. 3:18)
And there are others of course.
But the fact of the matter is that Twitter is inescapable. This is the idea of sound bites. We live in a sound bite culture, and there are plenty of reasons to lament that. Our sound bite culture is full of superficiality, hypocrisy, and consequently it is full of morons and easily duped masses.
But even apart from our modern, slack-jawed idiocy, the sound bite has always existed. This is because part of the glory of finitude is the inability to say everything all the time. We always abbreviate, summarize, and abridge. And this does not automatically damn the speech of the human race. In fact, God is the original leader in this venture. When God spoke light into existence, He did not give a lecture on the topic – though He surely could have. He could have exhaustively spoken the entirety of all that light is and means. But instead, He abbreviated. He called Light by a short, potent utterance that commanded it into existence. The whole concept of naming is the same. God brought animals to Adam, and authorized him to name them. And whatever Adam called the little, squatty rodent, that was its name – despite the fact that Adam had only existed for about five minutes and could not have had a very thorough taxonomy figured out on hedgehogs. But God was pleased. He wants His image bearers to name the world like He does, with short descriptions and names. He is not worried if Adam hasn't said everything else he can possibly say about the creature, even though a modern biologist might be able to run circles around him. It is actually incredibly God-like to speak big truths in 140 characters or less.
But the world wasn't a week old yet, and Satan, the Father of Lies, showed up with a lexicon, hoping to tease out some of the nuances of the Word of God. This isn't a case for anti-intellectualism; it's actually the opposite. It's perilously easy for pastors and theologians to get distracted by gnats in the text, while their people are getting trampled by camels in the pews. This leaves the faithful to fend for themselves, digging a few crumbs and scraps out of the theological pile of hot, stinky stuff that frequently passes for a sermon. And of course there are others on the opposite end of the spectrum who actually think the crumbs are the feast. They probably also think that Twitter is all-sufficient for every pastoral need, and they will have their reward.
But ultimately, it is not a pastor's job (or any Christian's for that matter) to make sure everyone understands. Sometimes, God sends pastors and prophets to preach in such a way as to make sure the people don't understand, to tell parables, and perform prophetic charades until the people are deaf, dumb, and blind (Is. 6:9-10, Mk. 4:11-12). It is not necessarily a failure for the truth to be told in a way that stirs up discussion, demands clarification, and confuses people. Jesus did it all the time. And Jesus did it so that some people would be confused, turned off, and reject Him, and others would be drawn to Him, to ask questions, to find out more, to figure out what He meant (Mk. 4:33-34).
Pastors should not think that creating questions and confusion is failure. Even when words might have been chosen more carefully, we should always think of those situations as opportunities. If you need to correct what you said, then correct it. But when people demand answers, the answer is always Jesus. And when people clamber for more, you're in a win-win situation. There is no down side to getting to talk about Christ.